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N.B. premier calls for calm amid review of policy on sexual orientation in schools

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs sits at a desk in his office. New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs sits at a desk in his office.

New Brunswick's premier called for calm on Saturday as the province undertakes a contentious review of a policy on sexual orientation in schools.

"Name calling and intimidation with the intent of shutting down conversation on either side is wrong," Blaine Higgs said in a statement as the province moves forward with consultations.

"I am calling for calm. We must treat each other with respect while we have these discussions."

At issue is a review of Policy 713, which the province's Education Department introduced in 2020. It lays out standards for schools to ensure safe, welcoming and inclusive environments for LGBTQ students.

The province is not removing the policy, but instead reviewing three sections "causing confusion and misunderstanding," Higgs said.

The sections under review involve transgender participation in sports, access to washroom facilities based on gender identity and the ability for students under age 16 to change their name and pronoun without parental notice.

These parts of the policy are "vague and causing confusion," he said.

One part Higgs highlighted allows elementary school students to choose a different name without the knowledge or consent of parents if the child doesn't want them to know.

"The school must hide the fact that the child is using a different name or pronoun at school -- to the point of taking down artwork with the student's chosen name on parent-teacher night," he said.

"Given that parents must give consent to go on a school field trip or to have their picture taken, I can understand why parents are confused by this section."

Still, protecting human rights is non-negotiable for the government, Higgs said.

"We respect and embrace the differences we see in students," he said. "We must find a way to do this while still respecting the role parents play.

"I firmly believe that family has always been the backbone of our society and to ensure that continues, we cannot undermine the importance of the role parents play in their children's lives."

The government has said the policy review was undertaken following "hundreds" of complaints from parents.

New Brunswick's child and youth advocate, Kelly Lamrock, said last week the government provided his office with three complaints when asked for copies of what they received.

The review of the province's school sexual orientation policy and ensuing debate echoes similar processes playing out in other areas related to the rights of gay, lesbian and transgender students.

Higgs acknowledged these topics "are being discussed nationally and internationally."

"These conversations are important for our children and their parents, and they are not limited to New Brunswick," he said. "We must get this right in our province, and we can't do that if we aren't able to talk to one another about it."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 27, 2023.

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